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New Comprehensive Sex Education Curriculum Passes in Pittsburgh Schools

On February 24, 2009, after two years of organizing by parents and students, the Pittsburgh school board overturned its abstinence-only-until-marriage policy and voted in a new, comprehensive sexuality education curriculum for grades K–12.

The new program affects the 31,000 students within the Pittsburgh school district, where 14 percent of pregnancies occur in young women under the age of 20 (compared to 8.3 percent across Allegheny County). Last year, 24 percent of births to African-American women in Pittsburgh were to mothers under 19.[1]

These alarming rates made many in the city question whether abstinence-only-until-marriage programs were working for their young people. Citing their own experiences and the overwhelming evidence that such programs are ineffective, many parents and students supported moving toward a more comprehensive approach.

A group of parents, taxpayers, and students, with the support of many organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, devised a plan to persuade members of the school board to change the sex education curriculum in the schools.[2] Students, such as Madeline Chandler, a high school senior in the Pittsburgh School District, asked fellow students to sign a petition asking for comprehensive sexuality education. On February 24th, Chandler was one of nine students to speak at the Pittsburgh School Board meeting.[3]

That night, the Board agreed to adopt a new sex ed policy. The curriculum will stress that abstinence is the only sure way to avoid unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases; however, new textbooks approved for the curriculum will cover a broader range of topics, including contraception. The program will not include demonstrations of contraceptive use, nor will administrators provide conception to the students. Parents will also have the ability to remove their children from the classes. [4]

“This is an excellent example of how a community can come together to make important policy changes,” said William Smith, vice president for public policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). “The community felt distress over the lack of access that its students had to accurate information about sexual health, and it was willing to fight to change the sex education policy.”

In fact, there was overwhelming support from the community, and only one of the nine board members voted against the new policy, stating that he felt there had not been enough input from the clergy and the public to make the decision.[5] In contrast, one of the board members who voted for the new policy explained that he did so because he felt that students are, “desperate, I think, for correct information.”[6] 

“Students will now be getting the information they need,” Chandler remarked. “They can lead a healthy life, knowing everything they need to know about sex. I have helped future generations of Pittsburgh, and I have never been happier.”[7]


[1] Joe Smydo, “City Says Data Show Need to Revamp Sex Ed,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 4 February 2009, accessed 17 March 2009,

[2] Ibid.
[3] Terri Klein, “Victory for Sex Ed in Pittsburgh: An Organizer’s View,” Blog of Rights, 27 February 2009, accessed 17 March 2009,


[5] “Pittsburgh Schools Remove ‘Abstinence-Only’ Sex Ed,” The Evening Sun, 25 February 2009, accessed 17 March 2009,

[6] Joe Smydo, “City Schools Replaces Abstinence-Only Sex Ed,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 25 February 2009, accessed 17 March 2009,

[7] Madeline Chandler, "Student Activism Leads to Comprehensive Sex Education."